Wandering under a blue sky, I kiss writer’s block goodbye


I’ve been glad of the chance to edit some of Ghetufool’s work lately. Writing is something I’m driven to by an impulse that won’t be denied. So what to do when writer’s block strikes? Turn to religion, I suppose, as people do when they feel vulnerable and melancholy. A fellow-blogger* distinguishes “the stratagem of God is Love” from “the stratagem of sex, drugs, hobbies, sports, money”. Yes, and if the chance arose today I’d gladly go and earn some money and find a day’s fulfilment there. Failing that, I’m tempted to finish the red wine, just to set my “artistic temperament” a-flowing. Still, I want to tackle religion, that honey-trap for the unwary, that bonfire of the sanities.

Oddly enough, over the last few days, wandering the suburbs under a cloudless sky, stopping to talk to ladies in their eighties tending their front gardens, letting the sweat dry on my cheeks, seeing the last of the cherry-blossom, pink as cotton-candy, fade on the ground under the trees—I have discovered I am on the side of religion: not against it as I carelessly thought.

I have certain religious beliefs of my own. 1) I should not disparage or praise anyone else’s religion. 2) I should not promote my own. 3) I should not disparage others for behaving contrary to my first two beliefs.

I have no other beliefs: not in God, Devil, Saviour, Commandments, Love, Enlightenment, Sin, Heaven, any form of afterlife. I don’t disbelieve them either. Apart from the three listed above, I try and avoid beliefs altogether.

What is religion? I think it is the inbuilt urge to sacrifice and renunciation that arises in Nature. The gods must be propitiated. I learnt this long ago from a book, but I understand it now, not as an intellectual rationalization that some anthropologist might have deduced, but from my own case. When I feel life’s emptiness, I instinctively do penance.

Again I ask myself, what is religion? It is to give thanks and to beg for help. This is prayer. I don’t need any deity to receive my prayers. I find that within this human body the urge to pray comes naturally, without need for any particular theology.

What is my own religion? To get my bicycle wheels out of the tramlines. To untangle myself from other people’s reality, and face my own. My method is to immerse myself in nature: my common and individual human nature, as well as the ambient world as I find it. To untangle, I may argue against all ideas, all intellectual stuff: my own as much as everyone else’s. In my hierarchy of human wisdom, intellect is merely a tool, a servant: not a leader, prime mover, nor a generator of ideas.

The sweat dries unwiped on my cheeks. I pass a house I nearly bought last summer, with a beautiful view of the town. An old lady is tending her garden nearby and we have one of those conversations in which strangers compare their life-histories. I tell her I am from the valley below, from a little street cramped amongst old factories. She says she understands why I come up to the open view of the hills. I feel like Nietzsche’s Zarathustra, or Gibran’s Prophet. She is in no hurry to end our chat, but something persuades me to move on. (There’s a similar encounter the following day: a wonderful conversation with a woman in her late eighties, only three teeth left. Her husband comes over to join in and we discuss the state of the world, and agree on everything.) I lie in a grassy meadow for a while, till a restless urge moves me on.

This cloudless day! When I feel oppressed, I think of those who are more oppressed, and send out my thoughts to them like a swarm of bees to settle in their village and produce them some honey. This too is part of my religion.

If you can enter the realm of nature, you can escape the tramlines of everyday consciousness. My meditation isn’t to sit cross-legged concentrating on the breath in its journey through nasal passages and lungs. There are dangers in that. I did it for more years than I want to mention, emerging still sane—if I have the right to judge on my own case. The meditation was embedded in a religion whose basic tenets were (1) the superior enlightenment of its disciples compared with the rest of humanity, and (2) the hopelessly inferior enlightenment of the disciples compared to the teacher. Can you understand how potentially harmful that is? My teacher did not in fact teach. He was a revered figurehead who spouted generalities. I am lucky to escape unscathed, reflecting with Nietzsche that “what doesn’t kill me makes me stronger”. If he had actually taught, it might have been worse. Not that I blame him. He didn’t insist on me being a disciple. Why did I enslave myself like that? Same reason as the other disciples, I suppose. We were brothers and sisters, greeting each other in the Hindi equivalent of “hail truth, consciousness and bliss”. It wasn’t what I wanted but it was easier to fall in the trap than get out.

Nature is my religion now. In my body, my senses, the world around, my embracing of my home town, my beloved, my home. My years with a Buddhist-Hindu outlook reinforced the belief and practical experience that attachment to these things brings suffering. All can be taken away. I will die. But, I was taught, this human body is a most precious thing. All jivas beg for a human body. Man is the crown of creation. You might have been born as a pariah dog, or a worm. I don’t care, I embrace it all: the suffering and the joy. I shall not die to the world till I’m dead.

Why did I get caught up in all that Oriental religion? I never took to Christian belief, though at times I had to attend church twice on Sundays. Had I come across the right role-model, Christianity might have captivated me. The nearest I got to that was reading The Pilgrim’s Progress, aged 16. All my researches into Christianity have been secret. There must be a reason for that. I hated John Bunyan at first, coming across this hymn when I was 7:

Who would true valour see
Let him come hither
Here’s one will valiant be
Come wind come weather
There’s no discouragement
Shall make him once relent
His first avowed intent
To be a pilgrim.

I didn’t like the tune, I didn’t like the word pilgrim, not knowing what it meant: it sounded grey and grim. I love it all now.

As I dictate these words into my recorder, the sun beats down from a cloudless sky. I had thought to sit on a bench in the back garden with a beer, but something in me desired penance and strenuous action—a pilgrimage of some sort. I see myself as a monk, striding among the Chiltern Hills, or at any rate these hillside suburbs. I discovered The Pilgrim’s Progress on a day like this. I was not solitary by choice then, just lonely, staying at my grandmother’s house. I had also been reading a book by Madame David-Néel about Tibet, in which, dressed as a beggar woman, she had witnessed a lung-gom-pa, one of those

legendary lamas who by means of psychic training could rush nonstop across vast distances of rugged landscape, running without end. . . .

By that time he had nearly reached up; I could clearly see his perfectly calm impassive face and wide-open eyes with their gaze fixed on some invisible far-distant object situated somewhere high up in space. The man did not run. He seemed to lift himself from the ground, proceeding by leaps. It looked as if he had been endowed with the elasticity of a ball and rebounded each time his feet touched the ground. His steps had the regularity of a pendulum. He wore the usual monastic robe and toga, both rather ragged. His left hand gripped a fold of the toga and was half hidden under the cloth. The right held a phurba (magic dagger). His right arm moved slightly at each step as if leaning on a stick, just as though the phurba, whose pointed extremity was far above the ground, had touched it and were actually a support. My servants dismounted and bowed their heads to the ground as the lama passed before us, but he went his way apparently unaware of our presence. (Excerpted from this site.)

I mention it only because I twice at that age accomplished similar feats, quite spontaneously, or so it seemed to me at the time.

My true religion, now, at this time of life, is that of William Blake, as in his Proverbs of Heaven and Hell: not to renounce desires but to discover them, trust them, obey them. I don’t see a separation between body and soul. That is not a belief, but a fact, a perception.

I’m glad for this crude scribble, if only to bid good riddance to the writer’s block.


* Fellow-blogger: signing as Timjamz at onehigherpower.com. The site is defunct and only a few traces remain on http://archive.org/

A. David-Néel, Magic and Mystery in Tibet, 1956, pp200-204


The piece was reprinted in a magazine called Network at the invitation of Kathleen Fedouloff, who says “Serendipitously, he posted the entry on 9 May 2008, just as we were preparing our Spirituality issue for publication.”

network

It looks as though it was thoroughly read, which is true, but then it was used in lieu of a clipboard for years when scribbling on loose sheets.

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13 thoughts on “Wandering under a blue sky, I kiss writer’s block goodbye

  1. it's not crude. instead, i found it pretty balanced and well pondered over writing.

    i love to consider myself a religious man but when God, through the sacred literatures, demands that i should not love anything and anybody except Him, for He is the creator, a certain sense of revolt engulfs me.

    at one hand my religion preaches me to be free as a bird, on the other it tells me to go mad in love for the Almighty. quite funny. i never could understand this. if you want me to be free, why you want me to submit myself to somebody whom i never had seen or heard but might have felt sometime.

    isn't it some kind of mean mindedness?

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  2. It was certainly well pondered over. In fact when you came and read it, I was still pondering it, and editing the text!

    I have learned not to take the sacred literatures too seriously. They are clumsy attempts to tell us to follow a certain path.

    I respect the literatures in a ritualistic way, for example the Bible. I feel it is sacred not for its content but for the devotion of so many millions of souls.

    I tried to practise a form of bhakti yoga but I cannot say that it worked: just a form of self-punishment.

    I cannot say it is mean-mindedness, because of my beliefs that no one's religion should be disparaged. But then I would not recommend any religion, even mine, to another.

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  3. It's interesting that Ghetu describes this as well pondered over because when I read it, I felt as though you were all over the place – with no real direction. Then, it could be, from your description, that you feel your religious nature is this way: scattered, and without particulars.

    Not to say this is incorrect or unhealthy – I feel much the same way about my own spirituality. It has a way of ebbing and flowing, though it is ever present.

    I think you have found your relationship with “God” (for lack of a better term) in much the same way Christ did. He met the doctrines, the standards, digested them and said, “This is rubbish!” I believe he knew what he felt inside, ultimately committed to it, and let the rest be history. It just so happened that he lived in a culture much like Syria, or Saudia Arabia today – he decided what he believed was inconsistent with their “law,” and much like individuals who act on such beliefs in cultures like those these days – was executed as a heretic.

    It wouldn’t surprise me if a delegation from the Middle-East met with political entities in Rome at the time, which ultimately led to Pilate’s decision to move forward with the execution.

    As for literalists who collectively accept any man's writings as “holy” – forgive them. They know not what they do.

    As for your spiritual journey, I believe you are on a right path. I believe this is true of anyone who seeks the source of life critically and thoughtfully, without blindly accepting someone else's standard or something that simply appeals to a palate.

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  4. Sometimes you have to use “shock and awe” to wake people up. But you shouldn't overdo it. You could end up pretending you are a zenmaster. And end up beating people up.
    To do this you have to have faith. In what you are doing.

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  5. My young protegée don't suffer from this thing called writer's block. She can write short but excellent pieces everyday. It amazes me. She writes for AD, a local newspaper from time to time. And she writes in English. She's 17.
    Perhaps my advice not to jabber won't do her any good.

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  6. I am a product of dogmatic and strict religious Christian upbringing thru British and American missionaries. I was a member of Intervarsity Christian Fellowship that teaches and preaches John Stott's Basic Christianity and C. S. Lewis' Mere Christianity. And that practices excommunication of worldly Christians. The indoctrination and experience led me to seek higher and deeper superspirituality.

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  7. As your post suggests, “religion” covers such a broad territory that as I read I found myself wondering what ties it all together.

    My first reaction is to think: not much! The word “religion” includes reference to things as contradictory as responding to nature with tremendous peace and tranquility and launching crusades.

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  8. William Blake made me aware of paradox to appreciate more. “Religions are supplements for those who don't get enough spirituality in their everyday diet, but don't get me wrong, I've had many supplements already today!” That “bradism” came from dad saying, “don't let religion get in the way of spirituality.”
    Your three rules show that religion can be a personal belief, but the ability for unique interpretation is sold out to the nearest God Squad for so many.

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  9. Completely unrelated, but you brought it up, Vincent:

    I love that old show (and the book better). “So long, and thanks for all the fish.”

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  10. I'm not so sure that he mocked God so much as he mocked the sophomoric way in which many people tend to view, cling to, or proclaim God. Regardless, you have a new front-page post, so I'll move on with you.

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  11. I trust myself very much. Eventho I can be very unpredictable. I'm quite safe and non-violent. Well, fear can sometimes make us lose control. Especially fear of losing control. Or fear of judgement, social, religious, and spiritual.
    I treat her as a daughter since I'm too old for her. We pretend to be lovers anyway. Just to satisfy our neediness from time to time. Online that is.
    I found something about REv. Dr. John Stott at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Stott and at http://www.langhampartnership.org/john-stott/
    “Stott was appointed a Chaplain to Elizabeth II of the United Kingdom (1959-1991) and an Extra Chaplain in 1991.”
    “…some have called “the pope of evangelicals worldwide”
    Superspirituality seems to refer to Pentacostalism and Christian charismatic movement.

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  12. I have been absent from blogs, forums and such for a little while as I have been occupied with the business of family and making ends meet.

    But just finished reading through this and I thought I'd offer some thoughts.

    I find words like “religion” and “spirituality” have been harnessed, and broken by those that would have you adopt their beliefs.

    Your piece attempts to remove the bridal and release them to be free to inhabit the places they have been disassociated with for too long.

    In the context you have invoked them, I can embrace them. They are then free of the toxins, that have latched on to them like parasites, and ruined them for the rest of us.

    The way you describe your walkabouts brings to mind a kind of de-toxification. Shedding the shackles, the poisons that others have thrust upon you. I can relate to this as well.

    I would agree that in we all are on the same path when it comes to such things.

    Spiritual paths, or religious experiences, are not well represented in any organized religion or spiritual discipline.

    The idea that there might be some who know better, or have achieved some special form of enlightenment, betrays an ironic lack of insight.

    Long ago, I abandoned invisible friends, such as Gods or Deities. Like a child does when he grows old enough to see the folly of his ways.

    The path is the same, what we absorb, or cast off, by choice or by fate, varies greatly.

    The leaps of the fabled Lama could not have been so grand if he were laden with the baggage you have so deftly shrugged off in your travels.

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